I can ask any of:

Do you know a breakfast place nearby?
Do you know a nearby breakfast place?
Do you know a good breakfast place?

but I really can't ask:

Do you know a breakfast place good?

Is there a general rule for determining whether an adjective must come before the noun or may come, Spanish-style, after it?

  • 1
    Yet “Do you know a place good for late breakfasts?” works just fine.
    – tchrist
    Jul 28, 2012 at 16:40
  • 8
    @tchrist: in "a breakfast place nearby", nearby is an adverb of place. You can substitute it with somewhere, here, etc., or an adverbial phrase such as in Moscow. In your other example, "Do you know a place good for late breakfasts?", there is an omitted that is introducing a separate clause. It's a completely different construction altogether. That being said, things such as "The city beautiful" are possible in English.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 28, 2012 at 16:43
  • 2
    @tchrist: That is a bold statement. In a place in India, it cannot be said that in India is an adjective. It is more complicated than that. Jul 28, 2012 at 16:59
  • 1
    @tchrist: If in India were acting adjectivally, you'd be able to say, "I know an in India place".
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 28, 2012 at 18:01
  • 2
    @tchrist: My point is that "adjective" and "modifying a noun" are not exactly the same thing. I agree that "nearby" is unequivocally modifying "place" in "a nearby place", but it is perhaps not absurd to view it as an elliptical adjectival clause of which only the adverb is left ("I know this place [that is] nearby"). But I am not necessarily against calling it an adjective in "a nearby place": I merely have second thoughts about calling it an adjective in "a place nearby". Jul 29, 2012 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


The general rule is

One-word modifiers precede the noun; modifiers of more than one word follow the noun.

I call this the Eleven-year-old boy rule.

If you make a single word out of a phrase, it can precede (that's what the hyphens are for in writing), but it's got different syntax, because preceding adjectives are not declined for number.

Note the plural years and singular year below:

  • A boy eleven years old rescued the princess.
  • An eleven-year-old boy rescued the princess.

If you pluralized the second year, or used singular year in the first, they'd be ungrammatical.

Nearby, while it is enough of a single word to precede, still retains enough independence in its two consituents near and by to follow, as well. It's in transition from one state to the other.

Language changes, word by word and phrase by phrase, as we continue to speak it.
In fact, it changes because we continue to speak it.

  • 4
    For a general rule which even copes with oddities like nearby this is beautifully elegant!
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 28, 2012 at 17:58
  • 2
    True; that sentence is not grammatical. But years old is not a constituent, while eleven years and eleven years old are constituents. One can't just delete numbers anywhere one wishes; syntactic rules only apply to constituents. Plus, punctuation is not present in language, only in writing, and has nothing to do with grammar. Jul 28, 2012 at 18:10
  • 2
    @NewAlexandria You are mistaken: John’s own sentence is perfectly grammatical in English. “A boy eleven years old should be tall enough to play” and similar versions are perfectly fine.
    – tchrist
    Jul 28, 2012 at 18:10
  • 3
    @NewAlexandria: the commas around 'eleven years old' are determined by whether it's a restrictive or non-restrictive clause; tchrist's example (unlike John Lawler's) was chosen so it must be a restrictive clause, which means you cannot put commas around it. Jul 28, 2012 at 18:18
  • 2
    @NewAlexandria Utter nonsense. We’re talking about language here, not punctilious punctuational obsessions. You’re just making this stuff up.
    – tchrist
    Jul 28, 2012 at 18:19

You are missing the role of 'that/which' in proper grammatical construction:

The locations:

"Do you know a breakfast place, which is nearby?"

"Do you know a breakfast place that is nearby?"

"Do you know a nearby breakfast place?"

The qualities:

"Do you know a good breakfast place?"

to switch these, you must ask:

"Do you know a breakfast place that is good?"

"Do you know a breakfast place, which is good?"

Your question presents a wonderful example of what people often call a "problem" with the English language — which in reality is a problem with the colloquial use of the English language.

(p.s. in some sense location can present as much of a qualification as food excellence, but most people will not be so technical in their thinking)

  • 1
    What the heck are you talking about with this allegedly “proper” business? You don’t somehow make a sentence more correct by sticking in a bunch of extra words.
    – tchrist
    Jul 28, 2012 at 18:15
  • 2
    Ah, you appear to be referring to the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses. That distinction turns out not to be relevant in this case. Jul 28, 2012 at 18:17
  • 1
    @tchrist your down-vote goes too far. This usage is original, not the way that we have come to use the language (here in the US). It is true that "Do you know a breakfast place that is good?" is correct grammar, and show the correct form of that arrangement, as sought by the OP Jul 28, 2012 at 18:22
  • 3
    Looks like you got three downvotes, Alex my dear. Whom else are you planning to accuse? And what is this nutty “in the US” business about? You have a rotten sense for correctness and propriety and formalism and region, misleading you into saying completely ludicrous things. It is not some special characteristic of American English to speak colloquially or “improperly” as you seem to claim. Nor is what you call colloquial in any fashion substandard, abnormal, ungrammatical, or wrong. You’re just making stuff up.
    – tchrist
    Jul 28, 2012 at 18:23
  • 2
    I can't agree with this answer - it doesn't seem to cover the relevant point, which is that nearby can be used as an adjective or an adverb. Jul 28, 2012 at 18:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.